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Nick Bourne has been a 'progressive conservative' for a decade in Wales

Cameron&bourne Nick Bourne AM is pictured with David Cameron on the day after this year's European Elections when the Conservatives topped the poll across Wales (Photograph by Mark Jones).  Many factors explain the renaissance of Conservatives in Wales but fomer Shadow Welsh Secretary Nigel Evans MP told ConservativeHome that Nick Bourne has "led the decontamination" that means the Tories are now an acceptable choice for large numbers of voters in Wales.

When he became leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly Tony Blair was still enjoying his honeymoon and William Hague was the UK party leader.  Nick Bourne AM took up his post ten years ago yesterday and must be the longest-serving senior Conservative in the UK. His time is the subject of an review piecein this morning's Western Mail.

A few highlights of his time as Welsh leader:

Most important decision: To accept devolution. He took over the leadership of the Welsh Conservatives after devolution had been passed by the narrowest of margins (50.3% to 49.7%) in the 1997 referendum.  He took the decision that there was no going back and that the Conservatives should become supporters of the devolution settlement.  He has since called for more powers to be given to the Senedd. This decision often brought him into contact with MPs. He had a rocky relationship with Nigel Evans MP when the latter was the party's Wales spokesman in Westminster. There are still leading members of the Welsh Tories who are unhappy with devolution. Preseli Prembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb warned two yearsthat devolution experiment was leading to socialism and separatism.

Lowest moment: Criticising Rhodri Morgan is an uncharacteristically personal way got Bourne into trouble last year but it was his purchase of an iPod on Welsh Assembly expenses that almost became the last straw for the many critics he has within the Welsh Conservatives. Mr Bourne now admits to the Western Mail that "we had slightly stormy weather at Christmas” but the failure of his opponents to agree on a candidate to challenge him for the leadership has meant he has remained in post and probably will be safe now until the 2011 Assembly elections.

Modernising moments: Socially liberal, accepting of devolution, ready to work with other parties in coalition, a fierce critic of the BNP and an early supporter of Barack Obama, Nick Bourne is an-ahead-of-his-times 'progressive conservative'.  His recent advocacy of selection procedeures for the next round of Assembly Elections that would see women and ethnic minority candidates get preferential treatment underlined his Cameroonian credentials.

Bravest moment: His recent decision to warn that the Welsh Conservatives would scrap free prescriptions if it gained power in the Cardiff Assembly was definitely a brave 'Truth Telling Moment'.

Nearly moment: Nick Bourne had hoped to lead or at least be part of an anti-Labour coalition in the Cardiff Assembly and almost got his wish in 2007 when a 'Triple Crown' of Tory, LibDem and Plaid AMs looked likely to coalesce.  It was said to be 90% likely by Radio 4 at the time but the 10% option prevailed.

Outstanding ambition: To become Finance Minister - if not First Minister - after 2011's Welsh Assembly Elections.

Tim Montgomerie

PS Nick Bourne blogs here.


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